Pictured: John Antolini built a successful girls varsity program at SMSA in his eight seasons as the Tigers’ coach. (Submitted photo)

By Paul Augeri

John Antolini, who spent the last 11 years with the basketball programs at Hartford’s Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, has been hired as the new boys varsity coach at East Hampton.

Antolini, 48, comes to East Hampton after spending eight years as the girls varsity coach at SMSA. He replaces Parker Strong, who stepped down at the end of last season, his 10th with the Bellringers.

After a couple of seasons coaching the boys freshman and girls JV teams at SMSA, Antolini got the job as girls varsity coach. He inherited a team that won one game in 2014 and quickly made it a postseason qualifier in relative obscurity. In 2018, the Tigers reached the final of the Class S tournament, where they lost to Coginchaug, and went 17-3 the following year.

“I built a nice culture there and a winning tradition, and that’s what I’m hoping to bring over to East Hampton,” Antolini said. “I’d like to continue the success East Hampton has had and put some of my own touches on the program and see what we can build.”

Antolini , who played the game at Wethersfield High School and studied marketing at UNC Charlotte, jumped into coaching after spending a number of years officiating women’s college basketball at the Division I, II and III levels.

“My dad was an official the entire time I grew up,” he said. “I went to all of his games, and in college I started officiating on the side. When I came back to Connecticut, I joined the high school board and went for a Division III tryout and was fortunate enough to make it. I moved up the ladder and was a Patriot League member official the last year I officiated games.”

Antolini lives in Southington, where he coaches his son’s travel team, and owns his own business in Bristol.

“When I first had kids I was officiating every single night,” he said. “I thought coaching would be more consistent in terms of time and would keep me closer to home.”

After a decade-plus at SMSA, a magnet school that does not have a basketball feeder system, Antolini said he was looking for an opportunity to coach in a town where he could be involved “with the kids at youth level on up through high school.”

“I’m hoping to get involved in the East Hampton community and travel programs there and help out as much as possible,” he said. “There’s a great feeder program there and it looks like there’s a lot of participation and a lot of good talent to build on. I’ve had a lot of success in Southington with increasing participation levels in their programs. Hopefully I can have an impact in East Hampton as the kids get older.”

The Bellringers were 139-84 in 10 seasons under Strong and won the 2018 Shoreline Conference title after a 20-0 regular season. In the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, East Hampton was 7-4 and advanced to the Shoreline tournament semifinals. Dan Cascio, Nate Ireland and Jack Blakey are among a slew of rising seniors in 2021-22.

“It looks like I’m inheriting a great group of seniors, so that’s a good core,” said Antolini, who called the Shoreline’s reputation and tradition “a big draw.”

“There’s a lot of competition and a lot of really good, equally sized teams and towns,” he said. “What drew me is East Hampton is a growing and very close-knit community. I felt I would be welcomed to the team and I look forward to the challenge of playing basketball in a fun way – run up and down the court, score a lot of points and getting the kids to talk about the game. I want those 10 seniors all walking into school the next day talking about what they did in the game or practice and how we can improve and keep the excitement in the community going.”

In addition to its conference games, Antolini said the Bellringers have locked in to three of their four out-of-conference opponents in Canton, Amistad and Achievement First for what is expected to be the return of a 20-game regular season.

“It’s a tough out-of-conference schedule for us,” he said, “but that’s really, really exciting.”

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